Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Netflix 2: The Qwikening

Posted by CinemaPsycho on September 25, 2011

So, it seems everybody hates Netflix now. In the past few weeks there have been tons of stories about how customers are abandoning the service because they raised the price a few bucks (the horror!) and now the company is struggling to save face and get people back. Well, I don’t hate Netflix. I don’t always agree with their choices, and I’ve certainly been critical of them in the past. But even in the face of a changing market, I still think they’re the best deal you’re going to find out there. And I actually think it’s kind of silly for people to get all up in arms about the recent changes, as if they’re committing some kind of crime against humanity. A little perspective is necessary here, and I guess I have to be the one to provide it.

Last week, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced their latest blunder – they are completely separating the DVD and streaming services. The streaming service will still be called Netflix, while the DVD-by-mail service will be named “Qwikster” (which sounds like a machine that makes chocolate drinks). They will be two separate websites, and we won’t be able to add a film on both at the same time. Even the bills will be separate. This starts in a few weeks, and while I think it’s rather goofy and unnecessary, it’s also apparently an effort for the company to save face after the recent price increases caused customers to lose their minds. The reasoning is that people can choose either service or both, and not have to think about it as paying more for one service. Some have speculated that this is the company’s way of phasing out DVDs completely, as most customers who use streaming will likely drop the DVDs completely (if they haven’t already). I don’t necessarily think that’s the case though. I think if they wanted to stop renting DVDs by mail, they probably could, and after some initial outcry, customers would probably just accept it after awhile (as they wouldn’t have much choice). By spinning off DVDs into a separate company, they can continue to serve what they now see as a niche market without alienating the customers who don’t use it. If all you want is one thing or the other, you can choose that. If you want both, you can subscribe to both without it costing more than before. They’re just trying to make everybody happy.games-2.jpg

At least, I HOPE that’s what they’re thinking. The thing that worries me about Qwikster is not that they’re going to get rid of DVDs completely, but the negative changes they might make to the DVD service. I’m already hearing that they’re going to stock fewer independent and foreign films, and that some smaller DVD distributors have been told they won’t be buying any more of their discs. I really, REALLY hope this isn’t true. Part of the reason I love Netflix is the selection – I consider that part of what we’re paying for as customers. I mean, if all you want is to rent the latest mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, you can just go to your nearest Redbox for that. You don’t need Netflix at all if you’re that kind of customer, and you probably never did. But if you also like indie, foreign, classic, obscure and/or just plain weird films, Netflix has a ton of that stuff as well. That’s what I want as a customer – a varied selection of films. I think most Netflix customers feel the same way. I currently have around 475 films in my DVD queue (seriously) and I wonder how many of those will still be available on Qwikster. There are already some strange gaps in Netflix’s selections (like Pontypool, for example) and I suspect that there will be some titles disappearing from the new service, especially if their focus is going to be on mainstream films and TV shows (as I’ve heard). Again, I don’t think customers want this to happen, and I’m sure there will be complaints if it does. I’m also not looking forward to having to rebuild my queue from scratch, as I’ve heard we will have to do when they switch over to Qwikster. That’ll be a big pain in the ass! I think we would all prefer that they just keep the selection the way it is, but I don’t know that’s what will happen. I do know that if we can’t get the films we want to see, longtime customers are going to drop Qwikster like a hot potato.

The supposed conversion to streaming really isn’t going the way Netflix predicted either. There was an outcry when Sony dropped their films from the service a few months ago, and now Starz has announced they will no longer be providing content to Netflix streaming when their contract expires at the end of February. This sucks for streaming customers, but it’s not really Netflix’s fault either. From a business standpoint, it seems inevitable that some companies would pull out and look for greener pastures. Sony already has their own streaming service, Crackle (though it mostly consists of older titles), and naturally Starz wants people to subscribe to their cable channel to get their content. These dropouts did bother me at first, but then I realized something – all of these films are still available to rent on DVD. Helloooo, McFly? It’s not like they’ve disappeared from the face of the Earth or something. If you don’t want to rent DVDs any more, that’s your choice. But you’re not going to get everything that’s available. That’s just how it is. Streaming never had everything in the first place – I read somewhere that the selection was around 20% of what’s available on DVD. Now it’s even less. If you were expecting the streaming service to eventually have 100% of the DVD selection, well, you’re shit out of luck. Not gonna happen. What hasn’t been so heavily advertised is that streaming still has plenty of content, including films from Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM due to their deal with Epix (which gets first crack at them, then Netflix gets them after a couple of months). Streaming also has tons of indie and foreign films from IFC and Magnolia/Magnet (sometimes before they even hit DVD), and B-movies from Millennium Films and the like. Not to mention lots of obscure older movies that have never been on DVD and probably never will. It’s not like there’s nothing left to watch – far from it. Yet that seems to be the perception from hysterical customers. I don’t get it.

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I actually enjoy the streaming service (which I watch on my Roku device), but I’ve always looked at it as a kind of bonus feature to the DVD service. Maybe that’s why these recent streaming developments don’t bother me that much. Streaming is great for “impulse viewing”, for those times when you really want to watch something right now, but maybe in a few days, you won’t be so psyched about it. It’s also great for catching up on films you just haven’t gotten around to yet. For instance, when I saw Drive last weekend (and loved it, awesome film), I suddenly got curious to watch director Nicolas Winding Refn’s last two films, neither of which I’d seen yet. Since they were both on streaming, I got caught up on the guy’s filmography in one night. Over the summer, when there was nothing on TV to watch, I viewed the entire Twin Peaks series for the first time in 20 years (and loved it) on streaming, mainly because it was there and I’d always wanted to see it again. I suppose I could have rented (or even bought) the DVDs in years past, but the fact that all of the episodes were available at the touch of a button made it much easier. Streaming is great for that kind of viewing. But I wouldn’t want to rely on it completely either. Titles appear and disappear weekly, and again, the selection just isn’t as complete as DVD. I’m sure Netflix would love to be able to offer every single film in existence on the service, but business considerations¬†prevent them from doing so. That’s just how it is. I don’t know if Netflix actually intends to drop DVDs altogether at some point. I know they were planning to do that a couple of years ago, which is what got them in this mess in the first place, but I think now they understand that their customers still want to rent them. I know some people who don’t even use the streaming service at all, and until earlier this year I was one of them. DVDs are the bedrock of their business, and I hope Qwikster will continue their tradition of delivering a wide selection of films. I understand that they want to cut back on shipping costs and all that, and no one can deny that the market is changing. But I think there’s still a base of longtime customers who still want to use the DVD format, at the very least for the better selection. If you’re one of those people, then my suggestion would be to not drop the service when it becomes Qwikster. If you still want to rent movies in that format, then you should give the company your business, not drop them because they changed their name. If you want a wide selection, put the kind of movies you want to see on your queue and maybe they’ll take the hint and add more of them. Qwikster will only give us what we want if we show them what we want – it’s up to us customers to not let them turn it into a glorified Redbox. They’re going to adapt to what they think the customers demand of them – so if you want to continue getting what you want out of their service, fight for it. Don’t just sit around and bitch. And for god’s sake, don’t act like they just shot your puppy or something. They’re trying to run a business here – none of their decisions are designed to personally piss you off. Hopefully we can all get what we need out of this, and if not… maybe another company will come along to pick up the slack. It’s happened before – just ask Blockbuster.

For now though, I think Netflix/Qwikster is still the best deal you’re going to find out there. The best selection for the best price. I’ve looked around, and I honestly haven’t seen anything better. Let’s hope it remains that way. I guess we can always go back to video stores, right? Oops… maybe not. In the meantime, I know money is tight and everything, but it’s not like they’re charging us $50 a head to watch movies or something crazy like that. It’s something that you can either fit into your budget or you can’t, and either way, a few extra bucks isn’t going to make much difference. I’m guessing a lot of the customers who dropped the service recently are people who only joined when streaming came along and they could add it to their video game systems. The hardcore customers, or the “power users” as they’re called, are still around and we still want what they offer. Let’s hope the company realizes that and will cater to us from now on. If not, they’ll wind up serving no one in particular, and they won’t be much use for anyone any more. I think they get that. Let’s put it this way – they’d better get it.

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